Patterns

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He knelt down beside her and placed the back of his hand close to her mouth in the vain hope that he would feel some faint breath, a sign of life maybe. But the open wound that exposed her throat to the cold night air was proof enough that her existence from this mortal coil had been torn from her. This beaten, half naked girl had been relegated to the status of a corpse by the hand of some enraged lunatic.

What little blood she had left pooled on the floor beside her, raising steam as the chill night air took the last of its heat. Joseph imagined that this was her spirit being called to an afterlife that did not exist, by a God he no longer believed in.

“Do I know you?” he said quietly.

 

 

 

 

 

PATTERNS

 

Sitting in his favourite chair, Joseph stared at the television as he idly flicked through the channels in search of something to watch.

He sighed.

With Sky, Cable and Internet TV at his disposal Joseph could find nothing of worth to watch. Programs on a war that he had taken part in did not interest him. He hated the way that they glamorised this time of horror and death – setting up young men as willing heroes that marched cheerfully to their deaths in the name of King and Country, when in reality most of them were just scared children who wanted to go home to the mothers. Joseph was one of them, and at the age of ninety-one he still had nightmares about that awful time.

So why the hell would he want to relive it?

But people did.

They looked up to these inspirational leaders of men, fighting evil foes that were regaled in sweeping tales of bravery and heroism. There were such acts of course, but the stodge of fear and death bogged down most of them.

After the war, the propaganda machine carried on churning out it’s government fuelled lies in a bid to convince mothers that the loss of their sons was an acceptable sacrifice to make.

Widows of lost husbands — Mothers of slain children.

All in the name of peace.

 

Sharks — That was another one.

Endless nature programs about bloody sharks.

Sharks and Nazis – That was all he could find.

And let’s not forget the terribly interesting ‘fly on the wall’ reality shows about a family of over endowed women and their endless struggles with being rich and pointless. To be honest, he couldn’t be absolutely sure that they were all bona fide women – one of them looked suspiciously ‘manly’ to Joseph.

He switched the TV off.

“Nothing on Mr. Cooper?” came the thick Indian accent from one of the carers.

For a couple of seconds Joseph struggled to remember her name.

Devika? – Was that it?

“Nothing on Devika” he replied, taking a punt that he had guessed her name correctly. Joseph smiled pleasantly at the large, over stuffed woman that had been given the privilege of serving him his lunch.

She wasn’t a bad person – In another time he would have found her quite attractive, but then Joseph did favour women who had a little more meat on their bones.

“There you go,” she said wheeling the small half table towards him that contained his food, and with the air of a dramatic ‘Ta Da!’ she lifted the metal covering that was designed to keep the contents hot,’

There was a slight, chilly pause.

“What the hell is that?” he said, adding his own air of disappointment to what he saw as an anticlimax.

“Fish” said Devika, still smiling.

Joseph stared at the sea of white sauce that covered a small square of something that this woman had accused of being some species of fish.

“Where” he said incredulously.

“Oh Mr. Cooper, you are a one aren’t you”

“And you are strangely deluded if think I’m eating that – and, I may add, you are in serious danger of breaching the trades descriptions act if you are going to pass that off as any type of fish”

Devika just smiled as she busied herself with tidying Joseph’s room.

Occasionally she would bend down in front of him, giving a clear view of her cleavage created by an overly large and matronly bosom.

“There must be about fifteen channels dedicated to women with boobs as big as yours” he said in a matter of fact kind of way, “You’re wasted here you know. You could make a fortune with those”

Devika stood up and looked at Joseph with her eyebrows raised in a reproachful manner.

“And you need to behave yourself Mr. Cooper” she said as she put his dirty linen in the wash basket, unhappy that his dirty mind was unable to follow suit.

“Anyway” she added as plumped the pillows of his bed, “who is to say that I don’t” she winked at him, “Now eat your ‘fish’. And with that she left the room.

Joseph smiled, and then grimaced as he took the first mouthful of his lunch.

“I fought in a bloody war for this” he muttered to himself,

“And this is my reward — I FOUGHT A BLOODY WAR FOR THIS” he shouted over his shoulder to the now retreating nurse.

“Really?” came the reply, “And yet you hardly ever mention it”

 

Forty minutes later, another, younger girl came to collect his empty plate.

She was small and pretty with a mass of red curly hair that she kept tied up at the back. Joseph smiled and thanked her as she cleared his plate, keeping his risqué comments to himself. Devika was older and more ‘world wise’ where as this was a little girl in Joseph’s eyes, and as a gentleman he would treat her as such.

There was saucy banter, and there were perverse comments — The line was fine, but it was definitely there. Joseph knew his place.

He kept his eyes fixed firmly on the wall in front on him as the girl made him comfortable for the afternoon by plumping up his pillows, and covering his legs with the thick blanket that had become as much a part of his wardrobe as his shirt and pants.

“Do you know?” he said absentmindedly, forgetting that he had an audience, “If you stare at that wallpaper hard enough, it starts to make little faces”

The girl stopped what she was doing and looked at him blankly.

“No, honestly” he said, “It’s the patterns you see, it’s starts to form little faces after a while”

The girl looked to where Joseph was pointing and squinted.

“All I can see are bunches of flowers” she said.

“You’re Irish,” said Joseph in a pleasantly surprised tone.

“I am sir – yes”

Joseph smiled at her.

“I think that’s the first time I have ever heard you talk – My wife was from Ireland. What part are you from”

“I’m from Dublin sir” came her small reply, “May I ask where your wife was from?”

“Belfast”

“Hard town” replied the girl with a smile.

“Hard woman” said Joseph by way of agreement.

The girl held out her hand,

“I’m Kelsey by the way”

Joseph took her hand, which was warm and firm compared to his, the contrast of which made him flinch a little at how old and infirm he had obviously become.

“I have old man’s hands”, he said by way of an apology.

Kelsey smiled at him and then diverted her attention back to the wall.

“I still see no faces,” she said.

She knelt down beside him so as to see from his angle, and Joseph leaned in closer.

“Over there, see? – By the window, just where the curtain ends”

Kelsey looked hard.

“Nope, still can’t see it”

“It’s an old woman,” said Joseph, “Not as old as me, but old none the less”

Kelsey stood up and brushed her skirt down as Joseph continued to stare at the wall. She walked over to where he had pointed, and placed her hands either side of the flower arrangement that made up Josephs old woman.

“Just here?” she asked.

Joseph nodded.

She took a few steps back and tilted her head slightly.

“I see her,” she said, but Joseph knew she was just being kind to an old man whose eyes and mind were clearly failing him.

“I’m thinking that you need to book the room next to mine,” he said.

Kelsey gave him a questioning look to which Joseph answered by tapping the side of his head.

“You maybe loosing as many marbles as me”

This got a broad smile from Kelsey, one that lit up the room.

“From what the others nurses say, Mr. Cooper, your mind is as sharp as a tack”

Kelsey picked up Josephs empty lunch plates, and as she left the room she turned and said,

“It was nice to finally talk to you sir”

Joseph smiled,

“You too Kelsey” he said.

She turned to walk out, but not before taking one final look at the wall.

“She’s got a hat on now” she said, “Isn’t that strange”

Joseph looked back at the wall with a puzzled look.

“I can’t see her now” he said to himself, “What angle did I have my head at – Ah, there she is” He turned back to the retreating figure of Kelsey and sighed at the missed opportunity of any sort of meaningful conversation.

“Nice girl” he thought, “Too skinny though – A good meal wouldn’t hurt her”.

 

 

~

 

The clock said 4.30pm

He must have fallen asleep.

It was all too easy these days to drop off without noticing that he was even tired.

But then, wasn’t he tired most of the time?

He no longer had to worry about waking up with the urgency of a widdle, and in that the catheter was both a curse and blessing. It was true that he no longer had to worry about the embarrassment of wetting himself, or the bed, but on the other hand he felt that the lack of dignity he had suffered was sometimes to high a price to pay.

He had lost a lot since Martha’s death.

Cancer had taken his bowel, and bladder.

Gangrene had taken his legs, and his freedom – whilst dementia was slowly robbing him of his past.

 

Selfish thoughts for a selfish old man? – Maybe so.

He was still alive wasn’t he? – Whatever life this was.

He didn’t wish for death of course, but he had faced it so many times during his life that he was not going to shy away from it now. If the tall thin guy with the scythe wanted him – well, he knew where he was.

He looked at the wall to see if his old woman was still there and gathered comfort when she smiled back at him.

“Hello again” he said, “At least I haven’t lost you yet” He smiled to himself, “I Am talking to the wallpaper though, so I guess this heralds the last of my marbles rolling away”

“Only if the wallpaper talks back,” said Devika from behind him.

Joseph turned in his seat in order to face the nurse.

“Those boobs of yours seem to enter the room a good two minutes before you do,” he said, “Did you know that?”

“And yet you never noticed them” laughed Devika.

“Only because they didn’t knock,” replied Joseph with a laugh of his own.

She walked around to face him.

“Pill time,” she said as she handed him the small container with an assortment of medication that even he had forgotten were for.

“Pfft – what the hell are you poisoning me now with woman?”

“Love and kindness Mr. Cooper – Love and kindness”

She sat on the edge of his bed.

“Does she remind you of anyone?”

“Who?” said Joseph as he took his pills.

“The lady in the wallpaper”

“It’s just the way the pattern forms at this angle – I haven’t lost my mind completely you know – not yet at any rate”

Devika picked up the pillow from the bed and plumped it up. An unnecessary action, but one that showed a need to occupy her idol hands.

“Like clouds” she said without looking at him.

“Clouds?”

“You know – when you was a boy, did you never lay on your back in a field somewhere and look up at the clouds?”

“When I was a boy was fighting for King and Country”

It was a cheap shot, and one that he instantly regretted saying.

“I used to see a dog,” continued Devika, ignoring his attempts at imposing guilt onto someone who was guilty of nothing more than being born after the war. “I would imagine that it was my own pet – we weren’t allowed animals where I grew up, so I would pretend it was mine. I even gave it a name” Devika stood up and did as Kelsey had earlier and knelt beside Joseph in order to afford the same view he had.

“This one alludes me though – does she have a name?”

“Who?” replied Joseph.

Devika nodded towards the wall.

“It’s wall paper – why would it have a name?”

There was a pause in the conversation, as if both of them were thinking about Josephs last question. Devika took a deep breath and said,

“Would you like a cup of tea Mr. Cooper?

This sudden change of subject took Joseph a little by surprise, but he rallied himself enough to say,

“Yes please – could I have a couple of biscuits too?”

“I will see what I can do”, she said as she stood up, and with that she left the room with Joseph craning his neck to watch her go. He turned to the wall again and said,

“Well that was odd. Why would I give you a name? – Would you like a name?”

Just as Kelsey had said, the image did indeed have a hat.

“You look like an Elsie to me”

Joseph shook his head.

“Not only am I talking to the wall, I’m now giving it a name”

He waited in silence for Devika to return with his tea as Elsie stared serenely back at him – hat and all.

 

~

“Elsie” he said as Devika entered the room.

“Devika” she replied.

Joseph tutted,

“No”, he said, “You asked me if she had a name – I called her Elsie”

Devika put the tea on the small table next to Josephs chair, and placed two chocolate biscuits beside the cup.

“How long was I gone?” she laughed, “In the space of a few minutes you have gone from denial, to naming and acknowledgment.

“I thought we were having an adult conversation”

Devika laughed.

“I’m sorry – Elsie is a nice name. Was she named after anyone in particular?”

“No” said Joseph, “She just looks like an Elsie”

Devika stood behind Joseph and looked at the wall again. She squinted her eyes and tilted her head this way and that.

“I still can’t see her,” she conceded.

“Maybe it’s a balance issue effecting your vision”

Joseph smirked to himself, amused by his attempt at schoolboy humour.

“Nah” Devika replied, “That’s taken care of by my butt”

There was a pause as they both stared at the same space, seeing two different images.

“Does it offend you?” said Joseph, “Because you know I would apologise if it did”

“No”, said Devika, “I like flowers”

“You know what I mean”

She stood up and sat herself back on the bed.

“Joseph – may I call you Joseph?”

“No”

“Joseph, I am a big Indian woman, you may have noticed, and as such I am subject to ridicule, and have been for most of my life. As a result of this I am well aware of those who are having fun with me, and those who have – let’s say ‘other issues’.

Joseph raised his eyebrows,

“I know about those kind of people – one of them had some major issues about seventy years ago. I was stationed in India you know — fought alongside your countrymen. Brave men” said Joseph, still watching the wall – avoiding eye contact with Devika, “Maybe your father was one of them – you never know”

Devika smiled,

“It’s a nice idea, but my father was French”

Joseph met Devika’s gaze,

“I think they fought in the war too – It was a World war you see, so that was kind of the rules”

Devika smiled.

“Where in India were you stationed?” she asked.

His eyes misted over for a second.

“The jungles of Burma” he replied, “Horrible place – full of every nasty creepy crawly and every animal in the world that want nothing better than to make you their next meal — a thousand ways to die. A thousand and one if you count the Japs”

The room went quite again as Joseph disappeared within his own memories.

“I made a lot of good friends back then. All gone now I’m sad to say”

“Did many of them survive the war?” asked Devika in a soft tone.

Joseph shook his head.

“Unfortunately no one did. Oh, some of us walked away with our lives, but the best part of us died alongside those that didn’t. Poor souls that ended their days in piss, mud, blood and fear. We were fighting for freedom you see, it was just a pity that none of us had the freedom to choose not to go”

He smiled,

“Ironic isn’t it”

Joseph put his hand up to his mouth and from there he used the palm to wipe away a tear that the years had shaken from him.

“Silly old fool” he said quietly to himself — almost in embarrassment.

Devika stood up and walked over to Joseph. She bent down and kissed him on the forehead.

“What was that for?” he asked.

“For all of you” she replied, and with that she straightened up her uniform and turned to leave.

“I knock off in half an hour Mr. Cooper – I shall see you in the morning”

Joseph said nothing as he sat listening to the sound of her retreating footsteps, and smiled when he heard her call back.

“Make sure he behaves himself Elsie”

“You hear that” he said as he turned towards the image in the wallpaper.

But Joseph’s smile froze when he noticed that Elsie was no longer alone.

 

~

 

   “I think the Dementia is taking me a little faster than before” said Joseph when Devika brought him his morning tea. Three weeks had past since Joseph first outing of his mystery woman and she had become as much of part of Devika’s life as she had Josephs. Daily comments and references were made to, and about this apparition that had been exclusively visible only to Joseph, and allegedly Kelsey too.

The nurse put her hand on his forehead.

“What makes you say that?” she asked.

“Elsie has a friend now, and to be honest – she scares me a little. She’s not there all the time, but she is there”

Devika knelt down next to Joseph and looked at the piece of wall that supposedly held Elsie and her new friend.

“I wish I could see what you see Mr. Cooper” She looked at Joseph and was alarmed to see that he was deliberately looking away.

“What is about her that scares you so?” she asked.

Joseph didn’t say anything.

“Joseph?”

“She looks back at me” he said quietly. It was almost as if he was embarrassed so say something, but too afraid not to. “And there’s something else” he added.

“Go on”

Devika kept her voice low and quiet – very aware that Joseph was having trouble with the next part of his confession.

“If I look at that particular spot, the angle and the pattern forms Elsie’s face”

Devika answered this with silence as to encourage Joseph to fill the void.

“The pattern repeats itself around the room” he continued, “but she doesn’t appear anywhere other than that particular spot”

“Like the clouds” said Devika.

“Like the clouds, exactly – the angle is wrong you see, so all you see is bunches of flowers”

“So this new person is just the result of another shift in perspective – maybe?”

Joseph turned slowly to Devika and dropped his voice to a conspiritual whisper as his eyes flicked around the room.

“Then why can I see her all around the room?” he said.

Devika took his hand.

“It’s just a repeating pattern that you have somehow have associated with one particular image – a person you may have met. You will loose the odd memory, especially people, so this person could be a representative of someone you have forgotten – someone your sub conscience is trying to remind you of”

“A repeating pattern?” asked Joseph.

“Yes” confirmed Devika.

“So why does her face change with every image?”

Devika looked around the room, trying to see what Joseph saw.

“Does Elsie change at all?” she asked.

“She sometimes has a hat – does that count?”

Devika said nothing as she continued to scan the walls for any sign of Joseph’s mystery woman.

“I’m not sure Joseph”, she said, “I’m not sure”

 

~

 

 

Joseph had spent the rest of that day in the recreation room watching ‘The Sea shall not have them’ with Dirk Bogarde. Although he hated war films it was better than sitting in his room at the moment.

He knew it was his imagination playing silly buggers with him, but it was still unnerving to have, whoever she was, looking at him from every angle. Hopefully she would be gone when the film had finished, and when Kelsey wheeled him back to his room he found that she had indeed vanished.

“Trick of the light maybe” he said to himself as Kelsey locked the wheels of his chair.

“Excuse me?” she said.

“My lady in the wallpaper had a friend join her. Gave me the willies”

“The nice lady with the hat?” said Kelsey.

“That’s right – you could see her couldn’t you” said Joseph excitedly, “Tell me, do you see anyone else?”

Kelsey looked around the room.

“No sir” she said, “Was I supposed to?”

Joseph sighed,

“No, not really. To be honest I’m relieved that you can’t”

Kelsey looked around the room again and shrugged.

“Can I do anything else for you sir? – Before I see to the rest of my duties”

Joseph was still scanning the wall for any signs of the other woman, but so far she appeared not to have resurfaced.

“Hmm?” he said after a while, vaguely aware that Kelsey had said something.

“Can I get you anything before I go” she repeated.

He smiled.

“A cup of tea would be nice”

“Sure thing” said Kelsey, and as she left the room she stopped and said, “Mind you, your friend in the wallpaper doesn’t look too happy today”

Joseph turned in his seat in order to look at Elsie who had a look of anguish and pain.

“That’s odd’ he said to himself, “What’s wrong with you?”

 

There was a noise.

A strange release of wind – like the exhaling of a breath that had been held for too long, and with it came the appearance of the other woman once more, only this time she was not alone. Another face had joined both her and Elsie – A cluster of three that stared at Joseph.

Evil in their appearance.

Malignant in their intent.

A small cry left Josephs lips as his frail hand went to his mouth in order to stifle any other noise – fearful that this would somehow bring these phantoms closer to him.

He looked around the room as the image repeated itself over and over, with each one showing a different expression. Joseph stared in horror at these apparitions of evil until he could take it no more. He screwed his eyes up and covered them with his hands, hoping against hope that they would not be there when he opened them.

Minutes past by with Joseph not daring to face the tormentors again, until a soft voice broke through the wall of fear that had grown so quickly around him.

“Mr. Cooper? – Are you alright sir?” said Kelsey.

“Have they gone?” he asked.

“Who sir?”

“The faces in the wall – I know you can see them, or at least one of them. Have they gone – Has SHE gone?”

Kelsey looked at where Elsie had been, but from this angle the flowers formed no other pattern other than what the artist had intended. She walked back to the door in order to try and recreate the position that had allowed her to see Joseph’s imaginary friend, but after a few minutes of head tilting and squinting she came up empty.

“I can’t see her anymore Mr. Cooper” she said.

Joseph spread his fingers out so that he could peek through them, and having satisfied himself that the woman had gone he turned to Kelsey.

“I want to move rooms,” he said with urgency in his voice. He took Kelsey’s hand and looked at her with pleading in his eyes, “Please” he said.

Kelsey cupped her hands over his and knelt down beside him.

“What has frightened you so Mr. Cooper?”

Joseph’s eyes darted around the room once more as if trying not to look too hard in case these demons reached to him from the confines of their prison.

“This isn’t normal” he said, “It isn’t right”

Kelsey reached across to the button that was set into the wall and pressed it, setting the small green light flashing on the alarm that was permanently clipped to the belt of nurse Devika Caine.

“What is it Mr. Cooper?” said Kelsey as she waited for a more experienced person to deal with, what was clearly a very real concern to this old man. She handed him his tea and he took it with shaking hands.

“I don’t think the flowers are making patterns” he said – the quiver in his voice indicating that it would break into a sob without much provocation.

“How do you mean?” she asked.

“I didn’t see a face in the flowers, the face was already there – whoever they are were just waiting for the right time to show themselves”

Kelsey looked puzzled.

“If I stand at the door I can see the old lady you first described to me, but I don’t see her anywhere else — or with anyone else”

Kelsey looked up and saw the large figure of nurse Caine approaching down the hallway. She stood up and met her at the door.

“He says he sees multiple faces coming from the wall,” she said in a low tone.

Devika nodded.

“The patterns in the wallpaper again” she said.

Kelsey shook her head.

“No, he says he sees them all over the room – he wants to change rooms”

The senior nurse nodded.

“Do you know why we are not going to do that?” she asked.

“Validation of the delusion” answered Kelsey.

Devika smiled.

“Very good. Do you know anything of Mr. Coopers history?”

Kelsey shook her head.

“No, his file is sealed – do you?”

“I am sorry to say that I know more than I want to know”

“He’s the last isn’t he?”

There was a pause as both senior and trainee nurse looked on towards the small, frail and above all, very scared old man, until Devika gathered herself together and said,

“It must be the end of your shift soon. Why don’t you leave early for the day? I have this”

“Are you sure? I don’t mind sticking around”

Devika smiled.

“You’re a good girl Kelsey, but no thank you”

 

As Kelsey left, Devika pulled up a chair and sat next to Joseph.

“Have the nightmares finally come for you old man?” she said, “They said this day would come”

Joseph tore his eyes away from Elsie and looked quizzically at the nurse.

“The dementia?”

“Maybe – Maybe not” said Devika, “But with someone who has seen as much death as you Joseph, your unconscious mind tends to try and balance out the lives you saved against the lives you took – It’s not uncommon”

“The war? – Is that what this is all about?”

Devika said nothing.

“We all took lives. That was what we were there for – is was in the job description”

“Maybe your conscience doesn’t feel that the balance has been offset enough – this” she said waving her hand vaguely around the room, “could be a form of self atonement”

“I’m not sorry for killing bloody Nazis” he spat.

“Maybe not”, she replied, “but what of the others?”

“Others?”

“The ones that came after – The victims of the victim”

Joseph looked confused.

“Collateral damage I’m afraid – it’s the nature of the beast”

Devika smiled.

“Is that all they were Joseph?”

Joseph’s brow took on a deep furrow as this question held impertinence and judgment from a woman who would never know what true horror actually meant.

“We were sent over there to do a job” he said, almost snarling his answer – angry at having to justify someone else’s decisions – someone else’s folly, “Unfortunately innocent people died, both on their side and ours. You were too young to remember The Blitz – Thousands died during those raids.

Innocent people.

Children”

Devika stood up and sighed. She brushed the creases from her uniform.

Maybe it wasn’t time just yet.

“I said the ones that came after Joseph – I think you need to think on that a little before we carry on this conversation”

She walked towards the door.

“I will get you your dinner Mr. Cooper, and something to help you sleep” and with that she left Joseph alone with his fears, and a wall decorated only by bunches of flowers.

 

~

 

In his dreams he was able to walk.

With both legs, inexplicably restored to their former glory, Joseph strode through the back streets of south London where he grew up. He had just returned after four long years away, brown as a berry and scarred deeply by experiences beyond those who had not served with him. All around him was his home, reduced to rubble by a death that fell from the sky.

Many of the streets that he had played in as a boy were no longer there and his family, such as they were had been scattered to the four winds, or reduced to ash – depending on whether or not they had escaped in time. From where he stood Joseph could see children playing in the remains of someone’s home – his home.

He looked around to see if anything else had remained and saw that by some miracle the corner shop still stood. Like some defiance against the destruction of English commercialism, it shone out as a lighthouse in a sea of desolation — and from it came Martha.

Young again – Alive.

On seeing him a broad smile broke out on her pretty face and she ran towards him, leaping into his arms and smothering his face with kisses, and when she broke away Joseph saw that Martha was wearing a wedding dress.

Standing next to her were two children – his children, a boy and a girl, all grown up with families of their own.

Martha had become middle aged so quickly – He hardly noticed it happening.

Where had the time gone? – Where had he been and what had he done?

There was nothing in his memory to account for those missing years, no experiences to mark to passage from young man to old. The sky above flickered from day to night as the years wound forward, providing a giddying strobe effect, stopping only to leave Joseph standing at the edge of a deep hole.

A grave.

Martha’s grave.

 

Moist eyes flickered open, and the dream faded into the background.

He could still hear what he thought were the church bells, ringing out as to introduce to world to Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Cooper, or were they saying goodbye to his wife?

There was too little left in Joseph’s soul to care anymore.

He lay still for a while as his trip down memory lane continued briefly into his conscious world, and smiled when he heard the soft steps of Kelsey approaching, recognisable as they were because they too light for the heavy frame of Devika.

Probing fingers found the controls to his bed.

He pushed the top button, slowly raising the back so that he was sitting up.

 

His chair sat empty and his television was silent, both however would succumb to their altered states, when one would be occupied and the other switched on.

Each of these events would eventuate soon enough, but both of them had to wait until after breakfast.

‘A time and a place for everything’ Martha used to say.

The only sounds, save Kelsey’s light footfall, were the birdsong coming from the gardens that surrounded this place – these rooms that he now called home.

Joseph wondered if this was what things would look like when he had gone.

Silent and peaceful.

Furniture and appliances waiting to be used – but waiting in vain.

He waited for Kelsey to walk past in the hope of stopping her and asking her if she would bring him a cup of tea, but as she came into view Joseph cried out at what he saw.

Kelsey stopped and turned towards Joseph and smiled.

Blood poured from a gaping wound in her throat, running down and covering her exposed breasts and stomach. Her face, what there was left of it, looked as though it had been beaten, smashed to a pulp as if to hide her features, making her unrecognisable, even to those that knew her — that loved her.

“Is there anything I can do for you Mr. Cooper?” she asked in a voice that spat and gurgled through the open wound causing more blood to fall onto her small frame. From behind her he could see Devika walking slowly towards them both.

Just as Kelsey, she was naked.

Joseph watched as her huge breasts echoed each footfall, rippling and swaying with erotic intent. Her brown skin highlighted stretch marks from pregnancy, and her stomach overhung her pubic area making it impossible to see anything down below. When she reached Kelsey she put her arms around her and pulled her head towards her so that it rested on her bosom, staining them with the blood that still ran and spat from that horrible wound.

She kissed the top of Kelsey’s head.

“You’re a good girl,” she smiled, and turning to Joseph she said,

“Doesn’t she look pretty today Mr. Cooper”

Kelsey looked up at Devika and smiled, exposing bloodstained and broken teeth.

“Just one final touch maybe?” said Devika, and with that she pulled Kelsey’s head closer to her, pushing her face deeper into her breasts.

Kelsey fought for breath and her arms thrashed around — blood stained hands slipping against Devika’s breasts in an attempt to push them away, but the nurse’s grip grew tighter causing Kelsey’s feet to leave the ground.

Blood spurted from her throat, running down Devika’s impressive cleavage and onto her stomach. It disappeared from view, hidden by the curtain of fat, only to reappear again as it trickled down the inside of her legs.

Kelsey’s fight for life became more and more frantic with each passing second.

She clawed at Devika’s face, breasts and arms leaving deep gauge marks as the skin tore away, adding to the blood flow – but still her grip increased.

Then it came.

That awful sound — The crack that ended the life of Kelsey Downs.

Her body went limp as her fight for life ended, dropping to the ground as Devika finally released her, and all Joseph could do was watch in horror as Kelsey’s corpse twitched its last.

“Why?” he cried, “Why did you do that?”

The head nurse looked hurt and confused.

“To validate the delusion,” she said.

“What delusion? – What are you taking about?”

Head nurse Devika Caine held up a blood stained finger.

“I think you need to think on that a little before we carry on this conversation,” she said.

 

Joseph’s eyes snapped open.

All was as before.

Silent – save for the ringing of the church bells as they called the faithful to their weekly meeting. All of them keen to receive atonement for the sins that would be repeated the following day – Human hypocrisy at its best.

The bed sheets were soaked with sweat and he shivered against the cold that this afforded him.

“Nurse – Devika, Kelsey” he called – “Anyone”, Just don’t be dead,” he said to himself as he heard hurried footstep coming up the hallway.

“Good Morning Mr. Cooper”, said Kelsey, “Are you okay?”

Joseph was relieved to see that she was in one piece, and even more so to see Devika standing behind her, fully dressed.

“Dreams” he said, and looking at the head nurse he said, “What am I not remembering? – Who is coming for me?”

 

As Kelsey stripped the bed down and changed the sheets Devika Caine took Joseph along to the showers. He offered no resistance to this, having long since let go of the humiliation of nakedness when having a female nurse strip and shower him.

To be honest he couldn’t remember ever seeing a male nurse.

As he sat on the shower stool, letting the hot water warm him from within, his mind drifted back to when he came home from the war – from where his dreams had turned into the horror show that followed.

His marriage.

His children.

Buying the little corner shop from Mrs. Dickinson.

A favour really as her husband had been an ARP warden during the blitz when a direct hit had taken him from her world. She had done her best to keep the business going but her heart just wasn’t in it. It seemed that she had died with her husband on that terrible night and all she wanted to do was to go back home to her mother and sister. So with a loan from the bank Joseph took ownership, having paid over the odds, and sent Mrs. Dickinson on her way to a new life in Wales.

There was something else though.

Something just outside his grasp – on the edge of his memory.

A contradictions almost, like something screaming at him from afar, trying to gain his attention.

“Do you know?” he called through the sound of the water.

Devika was sitting outside on the small chair provided for the carers, idly flicking through a magazine that Kelsey had left there.

“Hmm?” she said absentmindedly.

Joseph pulled the shower curtain back a little.

“Do you know what my subconscious is trying to get me to remember?”

He replayed the sentence back in his head in order to make sure it made sense.

“Victims of the victim” she said without looking up.

“What does that mean?”

Devika put the magazine down.

“Do you know why you are here Mr. Cooper?” she asked.

Joseph reached in front of him and turned the shower off, at which Devika stood up and took his towel from the heated rail.

She handed it to him.

“Because I got old – and my leg fell off”

“It didn’t fall off,” she laughed.

“Well, you know what I mean” he said as he dried himself as best that he could.

“Do you know where ‘here’ is?”

“Of course I do, it’s a hospital”, there was a slight pause as Joseph stopped drying himself. He drew the curtain back again.

“It is a hospital – isn’t it?”

Devika smiled,

“It is a hospital”

“Good” he said, relieved. He closed the curtain again and continued drying himself.

“Do you know how long you have been here?”

Another pause.

“No idea – six months, a year maybe”

“Try ten”

“Ten months? Well I wasn’t far out”

“Years” said Devika.

The curtain was pulled aside again.

“Rubbish” said Joseph.

“All true – Why would I lie” she added in response to his questioning look.

“How did I lose ten years?” The image of his dreams flashed again in his minds eye. The passing of time that could not be explained by the markers of experience.

Devika held up his bathrobe as an invitation for Joseph to step out. He nodded and eased himself off of the stool supported by the strong arms of his carer.

“Considering the circumstances in which you were brought here, it’s understandable that you would block that part of your life out” she said as she tied the robe around his small frame.

“I got old – that’s all,” replied Joseph — his words were temporarily lost, muffled by a towel that Devika had placed over his head in order to dry what little hair he had left.

“Maybe you got caught,” said Devika when she felt that his hair was sufficiently dry.

“Doing what?”

“Well that’s the mystery isn’t it” she smiled, “one only you can solve”

Devika led Joseph to his chair, and after he had settled himself in she placed the blue checked blanket over his lap. When he was comfortable, Devika unlocked the wheels she started the slow walk back to his room.

 

The next few minutes were spent in silence.

As Devika pushed the wheelchair through the corridors Joseph took the time think about what she had said.

“I’m guessing that I am the victim,” he said eventually.

It was more of a statement than a question and one that required, and got, no answer. “And the victims are the innocent people that died due to my actions during the war”

Again, silence.

He placed his hands on the wheels of his chair, and Devika stopped pushing.

“I don’t feel guilty about that,” he said in a flat, unemotional tone.

“And why should you?” came the nurse’s reply, “I think the world understands that you were all just following orders”

“Yes, that’s exactly right” Joseph let go of the wheels and Devika continued pushing. “Just following orders,” he repeated, almost to himself.

“I remember it all you know”

“Remember what?” asked Devika as the turned the corner into the hallway that led to his room.

“All of it – Every day has been tattooed into my brain” he turned to look at Devika, “When people talk about scars, I don’t think they realise you can be wounded from the inside too you know” He tapped the side of his head, “Up here” he added.

“And maybe that is punishment enough for some men” she said.

“If you were privy to some of my nightmares you would say that I’m being punished too much– which reminds me, you was in my nightmare last night”

“Charming,” laughed Devika.

“No, honestly” said Joseph, “you were naked”

“That would give anyone nightmares – why are you dreaming of me naked?”

“You killed Kelsey”

“Whilst naked?”

“She was naked too” said Joseph, “only she had a gash in her throat, and someone had beaten the crap out of her”

“I cut her throat?” exclaimed Devika.

“No, it was already cut – you suffocated her with your boobs, and then you broke her neck”

There was an awkward pause.

“You need therapy,” she said after a while.

 

Shortly afterwards they arrived at Josephs room and Devika saw Joseph visibly stiffen.

“There is really nothing there you know” she said in a comforting tone.

“Easy for you to say – you’re not the one they come for”

Devika locked the wheels to the chair, taking care to place her hand at the top of her shirt in order to prevent inadvertent exposure to those with a weak heart – or even weaker morals. She sat herself on the edge of his bed.

“There is something inside you that is trying to get out I think” she said, “Something trying to reach out, something trying to remind you that your personal ledger may still be in the red”

Joseph rolled his eyes.

“As you have so rightly pointed out, we had a job to do and were all just following orders. If there are any ledgers that have red on them, it is on the ones owned by the warmongers themselves”

“But what about when you came home Joseph? – What about your actions after the war? You had no orders then, and no job to do”

The old man stared at Devika in silence.

“Some of the horror and violence that you lived almost everyday followed you home. It hid inside you for years until one particular night in December 1957 – do you remember that night Joseph?”

“The girl in the alleyway – yes, I remember her” Joseph licked his lips nervously as the memory came screaming back to him.

“What do you remember? I wonder,” said Devika.

“Well” began Joseph, “Charlie Hawkins and me were on our way back from the pub, we’d been celebrating winning the darts tournament, and to be honest we had both had a skinful” Josephs eyes began to glaze over as he lost himself in the past.

“Go on,” prompted the nurse. She glanced towards the door in time to see Kelsey arrive with a fresh cup of tea – she frowned and shook her head almost imperceptibly and Kelsey responded by nodding, taking the tea away without making any sound.

“When we got to the junction of Lancaster Lane and Richmond Avenue both Charlie and I went out separate ways. It had started to rain so we both said our goodbyes quickly and I ran to the next corner, and to the cover of the big oak tree”

“What happened then?”

Joseph’s brow creased as if he was finding it hard to recall.

“There was a loud bang – like a car backfiring”

“Did you see the car?” asked Devika.

“No, I said like a car – but it was sharper than that”

“Sharper?”

“Yes – Like gunfire”

Joseph looked at Devika with questioning in his eyes.

“What did you do?” she asked.

Joseph took a deep sigh.

“I ducked down – Army training you see,” he said raising his eyebrows resolutely.

“Of course” agreed Devika.

“I pushed my back up against the wall of Mrs. Perkins garden – and that’s when things went black”

Joseph looked at his nurse once again and was met by a puzzled look.

“I must have slammed myself too hard against the wall and banged my head – maybe?”

“Sounds possible” agreed Devika, “What happened when you came round?”

“The girl” said Joseph flatly.

“The one in the alleyway?”

“Yes”

There was a silence between them as Joseph relived the memory.

“Someone had taken to her – real bad like”

“In what way?”

The images of his previous nightmare flashed before him. Kelsey’s mutilations and subsequent suffocation at the hands of nurse Devika Caine.

“She’d been beaten, and her throat had been cut – Just like..”

The memories of that horrible night mixed with his imaginings, causing a feeling of nausea to flood over him.

“Like the dream I told you about – Not the bit about you, the bit with Kelsey”

Devika nodded.

“Transference”, she said softly.

Joseph shot her with a blank look.

“It’s your brains way of trying to tell you something. It transfers an unsettling event into a world that you are comfortable with – Almost like providing you with bite sized pieces of food so as to get you ready for the main meal”

“Like the alleged fish you tried to poison me with?”

Devika smiled,

“Kind of, although the fish WAS the main meal — unfortunately”

Joseph smiled mirthlessly as he lapsed into a thoughtful silence.

“But the events are clear as day – I remember finding her, I remember calling the police”

“But do you remember killing her?” Interrupted Devika.

The shock of her last statement froze any words that Joseph had to say. What had been suggested was so fantastic, so impossible that he had no retort to her accusation other than,

“What?”

“I asked you earlier if you knew where this was – this place that you are in”

Joseph was still shocked by what his nurse had said to him.

“I said it was a hospital,” he said meekly.

Devika nodded,

“Indeed it is – but the hospital is just part of what this place really is. I also asked if you knew why you had come here”

Josephs answer was almost unperceivable,

“Because I got old” he whispered.

“Because you killed that girl, and many more besides. Do you remember me saying that the horrors of that war followed you back home?”

Joseph shook his head slowly — Not in disagreement, more by way of bemusement. Devika’s words rung true, but it seemed to be a truth reserved for someone else.

Was it possible that this ‘someone else’ was another part of him?

Some forgotten monster that had slept for the past ten years?

Joseph flinched as scattered memories of these atrocities flashed before him, mixing stories of his time in the service of his country with the horrors presented to him by facts hidden and repressed in the darkest part of his shattered and scared mind, as if stored for someone else to collect at some later date – but not him.

Never him.

 

His memories said that he had run – on that terrible night, he had run from the ruined body of that poor young girl. Over garden walls, across football pitches that suddenly moved with the impact of enemy fire — illuminated by flares designed to expose any hidden enemy. He ran until he feared his heart would burst from his chest, spurred on by bullets that stung the air as they spat passed his head, missing him more by luck than judgment — stopping only when he reached his home.

His wife.

His Children – what were their names again?

As he leant with his back against the garden wall, Joseph stared wild-eyed into the quiet, dark night expecting nothing but an unseen death from the barrel of his enemy’s weapon, but the battle had moved to somewhere else – some time else.

His throat burned with each intake of deep, painful breaths – gasping as he tried to get his breathing under control. In the thirteen years since his return from India, he had grown a comfortable layer of fat around his midriff that sealed a cap on any further endeavours that involved running.

He was alone, except for the girl, lifeless and broken at his feet.

How was she here? Who was she?

Wasn’t she the very thing he had run from?

 

He knelt down beside her and placed the back of his hand close to her mouth in the vain hope that he would feel some faint breath, a sign of life maybe. But the open wound that exposed her throat to the cold night air was proof enough that her existence from this mortal coil had been torn from her. This beaten, half naked girl had been relegated to the status of a corpse by the hand of some enraged lunatic.

What little blood she had left pooled on the floor beside her, raising steam as the chill night air took the last of its heat. Joseph imagined that this was her spirit being called to an afterlife that did not exist, by a God he no longer believed in.

“Do I know you?” he said quietly.

 

The sudden explosion of light from his bathroom window caused Joseph to look up as Martha switched it on. It’s intrusive illumination suddenly spilling out into the night, adding colour to the previously monochrome scenes created by the full winter moon.

He stared for a moment as the silhouette of his wife moved across the frosted glass window as she attended to her nightly ablutions.

Joseph smiled at this scene of normality, and although he knew it was a feeling of long ago he still drew warmth and safety from this mundane routine, for it was a far cry from the death and destruction that he had been exposed to.

He dropped his gaze back towards the dead girl.

What monster could have done this to a person?

What damaged mind would even think about destroying a body in such a fashion?

 

“I’d like you to stop now please” he said – unsure if he was talking to his inner demon, or to the nurse who had set this demon free.

Devika stood up and smoothed the creases from her uniform once more. She placed her hand on the old mans shoulder and smiled.

“Of course Mr. Cooper – Would you like a cup of tea?”

He nodded almost to himself, and with that Devika left the room.

 

Joseph sat alone in his room and stared at the wall.

There were no faces to greet him this time – friendly or otherwise.

 

~

 

 

“How long did the killings go on for?”

Both Kelsey and Devika were having a cup of tea in the small staffroom before change over.

The senior nurse smiled and looked over the top of her glasses.

“You ask that question as if you haven’t researched the answer”

Kelsey blushed.

“It’s okay – curiosity hasn’t killed this cat just yet, and I doubt it will do you any harm either”

“He seems such a nice old man – gentle even”

“He is” agreed Devika, “but the monster inside him is far from that. What you have to understand Kelsey, is that men like Mr. Cooper have been damaged – up here” she added tapping the side of her head.

Kelsey stood up and went to the kitchen sink and started to wash her cup.

“During the war?” she asked.

“They used to call it shell shock, but these days we know it as post traumatic stress disorder. It evokes feelings of isolation and rage – sometimes these feelings clash with the patient’s actual persona which brings on black outs when this side of them surfaces”

Kelsey leant up against the sink with her arms folded.

“So, can they be held responsible for their actions?”

Devika nodded her head from side to side as to show indecision.

“In the case of Mr. Cooper – No. He is unaware that he committed any crime as his subconscious had edited out, and separated the actions of his violent self from his image of a long and happy, and above all, uneventful marriage”

“Image?” said Kelsey.

“Indeed, his wife was his second victim after she discovered him with his first”

“Elsie Tunbridge”

Devika nodded,

“A twenty-five year old prostitute from South London. He took care of her right outside his own home”

“Nasty” said Kelsey.

“If he remembers what he did the maybe he will face trail by jury – but it’s unlikely.

“Is that what we are doing here?”

Devika stood up and, like Kelsey started to wash her own cup.

“No, not really. We are here to make the good side of him comfortable until the good lord takes him”

“And if the bad side comes out?” asked the young trainee nurse.

“Then it won’t come alone”

 

 

 

 

EPILOGUE

 

Her cold, lifeless eyes stared up at the sky.

There was a gold chain around her neck that held a small pendant in the shape of a name. It lay in the remains of her tattered neck, almost hidden from view by the blood and sinew until the light from the bathroom had caused it to reflect back at him.

Joseph turned it around in order to read what it said — ‘Elise’ it read.

“Elsie – where have I heard that name before?” he asked himself; his voice wane and thin in the cold night air. In a sudden movement that caused him to shout his alarm to the world, the girls hand clamped around Josephs wrist. Her grasp was vice-like and cold – the grip of Death himself, and from within his chest, Joseph’s heart leapt, almost seizing with shock and fear.

“Is there anything I can do for you Mr. Cooper?” she said, smiling at him.

Fat bruised lip curled back to expose her broken teeth, and her voice rasped through torn vocal cords as dried blood cracked and flaked from her torn mouth. Joseph tried to pull her away using his free hand, but her skin slid from her bones as though she had been dead for years, exposing decomposing muscle and tendons stretched by rigamortis to the point of snapping. He tried to stand but his feet slid in the fresh blood that contradicted the scene in front off him, and as his cries grew louder, fuelled by the panic of discovery, doors up and down the street began to open – his own included. As stark, cold terror set in his cries turned to screams, following him from his dreams and back into reality — back into the silence of his room.

 

He lay in the darkness.

Drenched in sweat once more and gasping for breath — ever fearful that the nightmare girl still had him in its grip, both mentally and physically.

From deep within Joseph’s soul he held a feeling of dread that, even in the dark, the faces in the wallpaper stared down at him from whatever plain that they inhabited.

He so desperately wanted to switch on his bedside lamp, but the fear that his tormentors would be there, waiting for him, held his hands at bay. Instead he held the top of his bedclothes as tightly as the dead girl had gripped his wrist.

‘Grim Death’ he thought to himself – for there were no other words for it.

 

Joseph really needed someone to come – either Kelsey of Devika, but the alarm had fallen off of the small bedside cabinet having been, presumably, knocked off during his nightmare thrashings. If he could get one glimpse of the chord it was attached to then maybe he could pull it up and raise the alarm.

His trembling hands reached out to the bedside lamp that had somehow survived where the alarm had failed, managing to stay where it had been left.

His fingers closed around the switch.

Joseph took a deep breath, letting the air out slowly in a bid to calm his nerves, and to slow the beating of his heart.

Just one look was all that he needed – He clicked the light on.

And there they were.

Waiting for him.

 

One by one the victims of the biggest victim of them all, screaming at him from the walls – calling to him to answer for his crimes.

Joseph put his hands to his ears in order to block out the sounds, but this was no defence against the ones that howled from inside his head.

His chest tightened as heart beat furiously, as if trying to leave his body in an attempt to free itself from this torment.

His throat felt constricted, and his mind sang with fear as he watched arms that stretched out from the walls, with hands that snatched at him, trying to get a firm grasp on his soul – all hungry, as if they had smelt some ethereal blood in the water.

Josephs end was imminent and his victims were waiting to guide him into a pool of dispar and torture – to show him their home, a home that he had built for them.

As Joseph’s heart froze in his chest, the hands clamped onto him and dragged what he was into a world in which his only view of the outside would be through the random patterns created in the wallpaper.

But only to those who had the eyes to see, the ears to hear – And a price to pay.

 

 

~

 

Ten days later:

As Devika left the large Edwardian building, she turned to look up at the sign above the door. This would be the last time she would do this, for tomorrow the Gladstone Home for the Criminally Insane would be torn down, as it’s last inmate had finally joined all those before him and passed over to another side of the ethereal plain.

Devika smiled as she thought of Joseph.

She held no malice toward him – no hatred and no wish for his death.

She was a professional, and as such this man whose care she had been charged with had been treated with the dignity and respect that she would have shown to any other patient. His crimes were none of her business – none of her concern.

She turned up the collar of her coat against the chill winter wind.

Besides – Judging by the frozen look of horror on Joseph’s face, his victims had found a way of serving their own particular brand of justice.

 

 

THE END

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